Challenges are complex and multiplying

30 September 2010 – Not only is sustainability going viral throughout the economy but it’s starting to throw some really curly questions at the people driving it,  revealing the incredible complexity of our natural world and how we interact with it.

John Eckert for instance. Eckert is an architect who recently joined AV Jennings as national design director, based in his home-town Adelaide after several years in Melbourne where he held a similar role for Mirvac.

At Mirvac, Eckert led the design and delivery of the zero carbon house, Harmony 9, which has outstanding features but which is very expensive to build and remains a “concept house”.

With the amazing advances in renewable energy under way, however, especially in solar, Eckert is starting to question whether big investments in new building techniques, such as highly insulated walls and ceilings that can bring a house to 9 star level, are really worth it.

In recent weeks we’ve seen the spectacular new offer from Lend Lease of a 1.5 kw solar domestic energy system for only $3690, about half the previous costs. And we are hearing news about PV cells becoming thinner, more pliable and some can even be embedded in paint. Not to mention the economies of scale that could come as China and the US battle it out for world domination of the market.

In Eckert’s view, no matter how good a house is, there is always the  issue appliances such as plasma televisions that can chew up massive amounts of energy and human behaviour. You can have a nine star house and a one star occupant, he says.

If you are not convinced we can produce all the energy we need from the sun or wind, you might agree with Bill Odell, a star speaker at the World Green Building Council Congress in Singapore in September. Odell says that a plethora of experimentation in new housing techniques especially in Canada during the oil shocks of the 70s led to a solution that was considered hugely effective and simple but not very well promoted.

With excellent insulation and an air-tight an structure, says Odell, you can virtually do away with mechanical systems for heating – even in climates such as Canada. Of course the plasma television and the pool pump are another issue.

On a similar theme Simon Witts from WSP Lincolne Scott has contributed an article prompted by Green Building Week in September.  His thoughts are that we already know how to build for thermal efficiency, or used to.  We just need to cast our gaze back to the graceful old buildings of the last century with their masonry-heavy walls, which create great thermal mass, and their tall thin windows that encourage air flow and let in winter light, but limit heat gain in summer.

What are your thoughts on these issues? Contact us and let us know. The Fifth Estate is your industry newspaper. We welcome your news, your contributions and especially your ideas.

AIRAH conference 2010, Melbourne
In a building at Charles Sturt University’s Albury Wodonga campus, Exergy’s Paul Bannister worked hard to create a building that would require very little supervision and without complicated technology, he told the audience at the Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating conference in Melbourne last month.

It was “one of the most exciting and most frustrating projects” he’d been involved in with all sorts of problems in delivery, Lynne Blundell reports  here, in part of her excellent coverage of the conference (more next week) where she works her magic to turn the complex technical issues into everyday language.

Our Bathurst Burr
Michael Mobbs is a crusader and true to his moniker in his Bathurst Burr column, to be “a burr under the saddle of government, red tape and sustainability police” in this issue where he has thrown the book at Australian governments for how badly they fail to promote sustainability.

A delegation of them should take a look at his house. Before anyone thought it was even possible, let alone sensible, Mobbs turned his modest inner city terrace into a fully sustainable house – off the grid, and off the water mains. And this in the days – 14 years ago – when green light bulbs were innovative, rare and  cost $28 a pop.

Mobbs wrote a book,  Sustainable House, about his travails and successes with his house, which continues to sell well.

Now he has written an update that has virtually sold out before it has even hit the bookshops.

We’ll bring you some excerpts from the book after its launch on Wednesday next week by former NSW Premier Bob Carr.

Those Dr Who moments just keep rolling

  • BHP boss Marius Kloppers becomes the poster child for a carbon reduction system.   Go Marius.
  • The PM Julia Gillard ignores the increasingly ridiculous bleatings of the climate apologists and sets up a new committee to work on climate action and some round tables to advise it. And yes both the Green Building Council and the Property Council have requested a seat at the table. (Let’s hope they don’t cancel each other out.) By the way, who will sit at the table to represent the environment side of the “built environment” equation?  Where is the Australian Council for the Environmental Impacts of Property? Any takers? Generic greenies won’t do – they need to understand property, including urban planning.
  • The Economist proclaimed the rate of rain forest destruction is slowing.  Not fast enough of course, but the message is starting to get through to regimes that may not have cared less in the past and are now starting to be shamed.
  • China sends a green building delegation to Melbourne to learn from its green buildings. Why Melbourne? Look to the hard work over the past three years from Victorian Building Commissioner Tony Arnel and his team. Arnel of course, is also chair of the World Green Building Council and of the Green Building Council of Australia.
  • Collingwood and St Kilda draw in the Grand Final – a huge environmental impact on the emotional front. We’ve been saying all year, anything can happen.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au

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